From the silence unfolds the sound of insects, rainfall, chirping birds and wind whistling through the hills: nature’s very own cacophony. From this rich canopy of sounds emerges the familiar husk of the voice of Liam Neeson, or rather, Father Ferreira as he is known here. He introduces us to the premise of Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited Silence, as film described as his ‘passion project’ by many a critic. This is perhaps the most apt description of the film that I’ve heard so far, as despite its flaws, Scorsese has produced a film which simply oozes passion, one he has very clearly poured his heart and soul into from its initial inception to its release.
Silence is not a particularly plot-driven film, but instead deals with the overarching ideas of faith, culture and the resilience of the human spirit. It follows the struggle of two Jesuit priests, Sebastião Rodrigues and Francis Garrpe, portrayed incredibly convincingly by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively, the former commandeering the most screen time of the pair. They embark on a journey through rural 17th century Japan in search of Father Ferreira, their former mentor, and attempt to spread the word of the church, whilst living in fear of the oppressive regime which routinely persecutes Christians who dare to defy the strict religious laws of the nation. The film is long in duration, with certain scenes being drawn out to almost excruciating lengths, yet this is not to the detriment of its quality; instead it takes us as an audience on the same harrowing yet illuminating odyssey endured by its central characters. I can, of course, see that this would be an area of potential criticism for some viewers. In addition to this, the film did feel somewhat disjointed and messy in parts, but the clear and constant sense of Scorsese’s attention to detail more than made up for this overall.
Andrew Garfield’s Portuguese accent was questionable to say the least, but aside from that he gave what is likely his most accomplished performance to date. Alongside the likes of Yosuke Kubozuka, Issey Ogata and Shin’ya Tsukamoto, who gave equally standout performances, the emotion displayed throughout the film, particularly in its latter half, was electric. There are scenes that will be etched into my memory for a long time to come, partly thanks to the astounding cinematography which truly created a sense of the time period, and also due to the utterly gruelling intensity with which the story of Rodrigues’ devotion to his faith is told. The journey Rodrigues undergoes is one to behold; as his faith is tested his conviction is strengthened, so ultimately much of the film explores the extent to which his spirit can be beaten down before he is forced to renounce his faith, or whether he’ll stay true to his beliefs.
Starkly different to the notorious crime dramas which characterised Scorsese’s style in the 20th century, Silence evidently holds a great deal of personal significance for the filmmaker, not least because it took around a quarter of a century to get off the ground. Notably, the film is sparse when it comes to a score or any kind of high-octane action, which is most definitely a conduit for mirroring the bleak, harrowing nature of the Christian experience in the strictly Buddhist setting of 1600s Japan. Its climactic scenes appear in ephemeral bursts, often unexpected and shocking in their use of carefully-placed violence, which avoids any kind of gratuity. The juxtaposition of these instances with such beautiful Japanese vistas and calming sounds of the setting make the potency of the film’s title even more apparent. Silence is not perfect by any means; it contains indulgent, sprawling scenes which could arguably be reigned in to give the film a tighter feel, but at its core what Scorsese has created is an unrelentingly devastating, yet vivid and arresting examination of the test of faith. It is some of his most ambitious work to date, and an absolute must-watch.